We are about to head to sea again. A skant 2 weeks in Hilo is just enough. We've toured the island a bit and the last few days we spent time with my host sister, Marcianna, from Tagailap, Woleia (outer islands Yap State, Micronesia.) It is very easy to arrive in a port; it is very difficult to leave again. Once the anchor was down, we started getting out the things that had been stowed away while we are underway. All these things have to be put back in their places, along with the new provisions we just bought (canned food, fresh food.) We still have a couple more repairs to make, we need to wash the decks and set up the rig for sailing again. At some point we just have to call it good and get out of town. We plan to do that in a day or two.
Our next stop most likely will be Palmyra Atoll, an island about 1000 miles southwest of Hawaii, owned by the Nature Conservancy and jointly maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is uninhabited except for the researcher/care taker and they only allow 2 boats at a time and we can only stay for a week at most. (Sailing legend Alvah Simon may be there already on his boat "Roger Henry"; he left Hilo just a few days ago and we may overlap with him again.) Then again, we may not stop there at all - it'll depend upon the weather. We have to transit the ITCZ (formerly known as the doldrums) and at present it is 8 degrees thick (that's about 4 days sailing time.) Currently the ITCZ is hovering over Palmyra and is characterized by frequent squalls with lightning and thunder, sudden downdrafts of high winds and then periods of no wind at all. (These island visits are certainly hard-won!) Our next major port will be Samoa (another 1200 miles or so) and hope to be safely tucked away in Apia Harbor by end of July.
Visiting with my host sister has been wonderful. Besides getting to know her husband, daughter and step-sons, we've been dining like North Pacific royalty. Micronesian hospitality revolves around food. Living on a small island in an atoll with no running water or electricity can be tough at times. People from neighboring islands sometimes rely upon other islands to help supplement their food supply if a typhoon has come through and swamped the taro patches or felled too many coconut trees. Food is gathered and fished for, cooked over an open fire and served up to 15-20 people in a family daily. This means that the bulk of the work day is spent on food alone. Therefore, when Micronesians get together to party, food is a central component and it comes from the heart. They feed their guests with abandon and they make sure that when their guest leaves the party, they leave with buckets of leftovers. For the past few days my host sister and family have been feeding us as if we were at a perpetual banquet: tuna sashimi, rice, taro, salad, bbq chicken, grilled steak, grilled sausage, banana cream pie, grilled fish. They even fed us pizza one afternoon while we waited for the grilling to start! They have truly nourished us with food and love. We are now ready to survive the lean times at sea when it is just too rough to cook or eat.
06/25/2010, Hilo, HI
It is an understatement to say it is great to be here. One big sigh of relief and satisfaction. I am proud of our Jenny P - she sailed us here even when we weren't trimming her sails quite right. In a way, she taught us what to do. We're a bit worse for wear - some bruises and fatigue, but the recovery began as soon as we set the anchor. The last few days of the passage were actually the best sailing weather we had on the entire trip. Steady 20-25 kts winds, reasonable wave heights and sunny skies. We had to keep up the speed in order to make it in to port by the afternoon. We didn't want to enter at night, and we really wanted to get to the Harbormaster's office before they closed so we could check in and get a shower!
There were times on this passage that I questioned our decision to undertake this adventure. I talked about selling our boat in Hawaii and moving into a condo and living here for a year. The kids were remarkable in their ability to deal with the rocking and rolling of the boat. In a way, they moved around the boat as they would a play structure at the local park. When things got rough, they just lied around on the bunks and kept cool. When they had energy, they'd play a game they call Castle Guards; it's a mixture of playmobiles and legos. Now that Freya has turned 5 and collected her gifts that were waiting for her at the Harbormaster's office, they play Calico Guards because she's added her Calico Critters to the mix. They've started to realize that they are each other's steady playmates for the year and we are beginning to have more harmony than discord. A trend we appreciate.
Now that our passage is over, I am particularly grateful for the following:
1. Eric, our Captain - he worked through all the glitches and never lost his sunny disposition.
2. The Monitor Windvane from Scanmar - it sailed us through rough weather and light winds - absolutely essential.
3. Nine dozen eggs from the happy hens at Stokesberry Farm near Seattle. I picked them up on May 9th at the University District Farmer's Market and we finished them up as we arrived in Hilo on June 21st. No refrigeration necessary. We lost maybe 5-6 of the lot - they fell off the counter when an unexpected wave hit.
4. Avatar the Last Airbender series - when we had major boat work to do, the kids were able to fully immerse themselves in this storyline.
5. The BFG, Harry Potter, James and the Giant Peach and My Father's Dragon - books on tape. What a lifeline. Whenever the kids got too loud with one another, we turned on a book on tape and let someone else talk for a while - they all got quite and listened for hours.
We've now been in port for a couple days. We have a rental car and can see some of the island. We snorkeled in some lava tide pools today and have plans to viist the Volcanoes National Park Monday/Tuesday. My host sister from when I was in the Peace Corps Micronesia lives in the next town over with her family. We'll visit with them this weekend. We have some boat projects lined up before our departure for Palmyra and Samoa next week. I get my birthday present early this year - a new toilet!! I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather have.
We are having our best day of sailing today. Moderate seas, fairly steady winds, and good speed toward Hilo. At noon we have 148 miles to go, and we did 141 miles over the last 24 hours, one of our top days. If we had more days like this, we would not be so anxious for Hilo. Sophie is really starting to engage as well, asking to become part of the watch rotation. While she can't do this without support, having her up top for an hour before meal times, with me just below in the galley would be very helpful.
The last two nights have been great for stargazing - clear skies and cooperating wind and seas. Last night Sophie asked me to wake her for my ten pm watch to star gaze. I tried but she was struggling, and as the sky was partly cloudy I let her sleep. During the night the sky cleared, and I spent half of my early morning watch laying on by back with a star guide, picking out new constellations I have not known, and saw a bight shooting star. I look forward to sharing one of these nights with Sophie, such experiences are what we came for.
Our fresh fruit has help up very well - we just ran out today and have a good shot at Hilo tomorrow. Yesterday Sophie lead the kids in making fresh squeezed lemon aid, what a treat! Today I made popcorn on the stove. Small treats provide greater pleasure out here.
We have not had to resort to many canned meals, but have been cooking with a lot of fresh ingredients and eating a healthy diet. I can't remember any time in my adult life when I have gone 2 weeks without any restaurant food or take out. I have been doing most of the cooking, and while I have enjoyed it, I am looking forward to a break.
Today was Freya's 5th birthday. As we have a small boat and expected to be in Hawaii 2 -3 weeks ago, we mailed all of her presents along with the rotation of books care of the Hilo harbormaster. I was surprised and pleased that she was not bothered by this at all. Christine made her a cake and we had a nice birthday for her. She got to pick out the movie for movie night (passage making has changed.) She is excited, but patient beyond her years to get her presents in Hilo. Freya has been very helpful on the trip. She always volunteers to help wash the dishes, or find gear for us. (Very often she has "borrowed" the gear. She also tries to take care of Finn and even Sophie. She would be a great big sister, but she won't be so lucky.
Yesterday I finally got a chance to fish behind the boat. Our extremely basic technique is to troll with a hand line behind the boat - no pole. Just a snubber, some heavy line, 300 lbs test that the fish can't easily bite through, and a rubber squid with large hooks. This also compensates for not having a reel with a drag control to absorb the strike. I cleated my rig off and settled in, dreaming of some fresh yellow fin sashimi for lunch. Finn and Freya were thrilled, up in the cockpit actively watching my line and updating me every 90 seconds and asking it if was time to pull it in and check it. I had to take pictures of them. As I did, Finn told me he thought the line was coming loose. I didn't really believe him, but decided to stow the camera and check it out. Wrong order. I really think I will learn to DO IT NOW on this trip. 15 minutes of fishing and my rig was gone. (I am checking the Monitor bolts 2x per day.) I got a new rig together and started trolling again, and caught 4 feet of some old nylon line. It is surprising how much debris is floating out here. Several times a day we see bottles or old fishing floats.
Today,I tied a loop and cleated the line to the deck with my newly constructed rig. (While many cruisers deploy multiple lines at once, I decided to learn to tangle one line in the Monitor steering vane first.) After an hour the kids initial excite waned. After few hours Dale started to pull the line in to check it, and a fish jumped behind the boat. I'd like to say the fight was on, but I think he was pretty tired from being drug behind the sailboat a while. I had my gaffe and fish billy at the ready. (my fillet knife was another matter) As Dale pulled him in, I saw the distinctive iridescent blue green flash of the Mahi, we had a small bull Mahi on the line. Dale pulled him alongside I hooked him with the gaffe and brought him in range of the billy. An alternate technique to clubbing fish to death is to spray some alcohol into their gills: this knocks them out, stopping them from biting and flailing. Fish blood does not clean up easily, and bashing a pelagic fish over the head with a club is a very effective way to make a grand mess. I am switching techniques. While we could not weight our catch, I estimate the fish between 8 and 10 pounds. Several meals and a good moral booster for us.
"This is a day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!" This was the call to worship at our wedding 12 years ago. Each day is equally made, but some are truly wonderful. Our wedding day surely was, and I now add today to the list. After almost a month of no sunshine, cold weather and high winds and teetering waves, we finally sailed into a beautiful blue morning and enjoyed most of a sunny day. No major brakedowns, the kids played nicely together, and the adults each got a short nap in. It was also a "morale day" - every couple days we turn on the engine, make water, take showers and clean the boat. It makes everyone feel better.
We were supposed to have a morale day yesterday, but we gave up on it because the wind remained at 28-30 kts for most of the day and by afternoon the waves were so high (we saw some 18-20 footers for sure) they made conditions below quite uncomfortable. The kids dance around the boat and love the lurch of the waves. I find water in the cockpit a menacing sign and had to surrender to my bunk for about 4 hours and pretend that I did not exist. -0 The present evening squall notwithstanding, this has been a remarkable day on an otherwise very grueling passage.
Less than a week to go for Hilo!
06/15/2010, 664 miles Northeast of Hilo
After several overcast days with periodic squalls, we have a blue sky day, and great downwind sailing. (If you don't mind the swell and the boat pitching around a little - hopefully that settles down tomorrow.) The sun is very welcome and well timed, as we are all tired. We had our first flying fish on the deck yesterday, the kids were thrilled. I am anxious to start trolling for tuna, wahoo and mahi, but it has been a little rough for fishing and I have been busy with kids and the boat.
We made our turn to Hilo and are sailing down the rhumb line, 664 miles to go, or about five days with favorable winds. Our course is just on the edge of what we can comfortably sail downwind: sailing dead down wind reduces stability, causing the boat to roll and sail in a serpentine manner. We do not want to enter Hilo harbor at night, so we need to keep the course, keep our speed up if we want to have a chance of getting in on Monday. Tuesday is more likely, and if the wind and waves are challenging, later. A 17 day passage from San Francisco would be very good for our heavily loaded boat, and we are all looking forward to a meal ashore, ice cream and a full night's sleep without watches and rollers.
Sophie is teaching me to play Pokeman, and had all of us playing the "Mafia" game she learned at sailing camp. The kids got frustrated with their Lego creations exploding as they flew off of the table, so now the narrow walkway through the cabin is often covered in legos. The kids are playing together better every day. It is a big change for me to be around them 24/7.
Yesterday was supposed to be a morale day (showers, a significant event as I have to make water and empty the "sail locker") but we had to cancel it due to the strong waves. Everyone is feeling a lot better today.